An Outline History of Ferring

There are two main sources for Ferring’s history: archaeology and the written record. The archaeology is still being revealed, as new housing and road developments yield artefacts and ancient disturbances of the soil and subsoil: the written records are well-known to local historians, except that every ten years a new decade of the census records is opened up to reveal details of the people who lived in the village a hundred years earlier. From the turn of the century, and especially from the 1920s onwards, we also have photographs. And from the 1930s, we have amateur cine footage and the memories of our members and other residents and former residents

The discovery of flint tools (and flint mines) on the Downs shows that the Stone Age people lived close by. Flint tools have been found on our border with Angmering – but the earliest remains found in Ferring itself are from the Bronze Age (approx. 1000 BC). There was a Bronze Age community on Highdown Hill, and probably a trackway along the Rife, where the hoard of  palstaves or Bronze Age axe-heads were found in 1983. Next came the Iron Age people, who built the hill fort at Highdown and left many artefacts behind. The parish has many Roman sites too, including the remains of a bath house (actually a few metres over the border into Angmering) and several cremation-urn burials.

The Saxon Village

The village name is indisputably Saxon; the ‘-ing’  termination is widespread over Sussex (the land of the South Saxons), denoting ‘people of’. This was the settlement of the people of  a leader called Ferra. Ferra’s  people originally buried their dead on Highdown, close to the old Iron Age hill fort; the cemetery there has yielded great treasures (now in Worthing Museum) and showed some bodies buried in ‘pagan’ alignments and some clearly east-west in the contemporary Christian style. By the 8th Century however, they must have been living (and being buried) where the core of the village now stands. In 765 we have the first written record – the charter in which Osmund grants his thegn Walhere ‘land .. for the building of a ‘monasterium’ at ..  Ferryng’ (the word ‘monasterium’ is best translated at ‘minster church’ or ‘church centre’). Then, in a charter dated 791, Ealdwulf donates to his bishop a piece of woodland to support ‘the church of St Andrew which is situated in the territory which is called Ferryng’.

The present Norman church was presumably built on the ruins of that Saxon church, and  Domesday Book records the Bishop (of Chichester) as holding Ferring (‘Feringe’) as his own demesne in 1086. It was mainly arable land, but with some meadow and woodland, and pig keeping. Part of the manor (believed to be what was later called ‘East Ferring’) was held by ‘Ansfrid’.

Yeomen and Churchmen

Ferring’s documented history for the next 750 years is nearly all taken from ecclesiastical records – those of the Chichester cathedral and the archdeacon’s and consistory courts, the manor courts and, from 1558, the Parish registers. The Bishop was the overall landlord (at least of West Ferring) and let out the manor (and the manor house just south of the church) to a succession of tenants and sub-tenants who farmed the land. These tenant farmers were the ‘yeomen’ whose leases, wills, probate inventories and other transactions feature very strongly in the mediaeval and post-mediaeval records. Among them were the Franklin family, first mentioned in a document of 1327, still here in 1655, who gave their name to Franklands Green. Other notable names are in the lists of Vicars (from 1405) and Churchwardens (from 1607).

During the Civil War the manor was ‘seized by Parliament’, says a Victorian history of Sussex, and ‘sold to Anthony Stapley’. It passed back to the Bishop of Chichester at the Restoration and was leased to the Westbrooke family; then, through marriage, the lease passed to the Richardsons. There are 18th Century memorials to both families in St Andrew’s Church, and 17th Century entries in the Parish Register. The next few owners (among them Sir John Shelley, a relative of the poet) did not live in Ferring, but William Henty, from Littlehampton, bought the lease in 1785 and was living ‘in the old manor house’ by 1790, and the family continued to live there until  the early 1920s. The rebuilt manor house (‘The Grange’) then became a school, later a hotel, and the land the family had acquired (by this time three-quarters of the village) was sold for building plots.

Victorian Farming Community

All through this period the village remained a farming community and the record of the villagers’ crops is shown in the tithes they paid to the Vicar and to the ‘Prebend’ at Chichester. Tithes were originally paid as, literally, a tenth share of the crops and livestock but were later taken as money and often paid to an intermediary who paid only a proportion to the church. In 1836, Tithes were abolished in return for a regular rent charge, which was to be no longer dependent on yield. This rental was assessed for each occupier of land and involved a very comprehensive survey of the ownership, occupation, usage and value of every piece of land in the country. The settlement for Ferring (1840) gives us a complete inventory of land holdings and land use and is a vital link between the ecclesiastical and manorial records of the earlier centuries and the census returns and Ordnance Survey maps of the later 19th and 20th century.

Analysis of these records (especially by Richard Standing in The Great Tithe of 1836, and in unpublished work by Frank Leeson) shows that two-thirds of the parish was arable land (wheat and other crops), just under a quarter was meadow (for cattle and hay-making, mainly along the Rife) and pasture (for sheep, mainly on Highdown); there were 40 acres of woodland (to the north-east of Highdown, still there). Henty was already the main land-owner (with half the parish, most of it let out to tenant farmers based on Home Farm and Franklins). Other significant landowners were the Duke of Norfolk (an eighth, behind Highdown), David Lyon (an eighth, mainly either side of Sea Lane and linking up with Goring Hall), and William Richardson (somewhat less, in the south-east corner, again linking up with land in Goring).

This survey lays out the parish field by field, with its crops, rental value, ownership and occupation. The 1841 census return complements this very well by listing all the households, their ages, birthplaces and occupations. Edwin Henty is there with a young family and five servants. William Marshall, his principal tenant farmer, is there with his wife baby daughter and seven servants . And so are all the agricultural labourers (by far the most common occupation ) and a few craftsmen (shoemaker, joiner, bricklayer etc) and their wives and children. Later censuses add more details (relationship to head of household, name of cottage etc) and make it possible to trace individual families through successive generations to the 1911 census, street directories and even the current telephone directory.

Modern Times

The population of Ferring remained at around 250 for nearly all this period, and had probably been at that level for many centuries. Little changed, in either the farming economy or the size of the population, until the mid-1920s (although the hiring and firing practices of the farmers meant that only a minority of the agricultural labourers and their families ‘survived’ from one census to another). At that time, better transport links and increasing social mobility began to create a demand for homes (originally holiday homes) on the south coast, and the last of the Henty landlords had advertised the farmlands of South Ferring as offering ‘considerable opportunity for development’ in 1921. This development actually started in 1924 and was well underway by 1931, with much of the West Drive/Ferringham Lane/Ocean Drive/South Drive area already covered with bungalows (and a few larger houses), and the population up to 795.

The Henty executors sold the northern half of the estate in September 1930 and the next nine years was the most intensive period of building, with the population doubling or tripling before the outbreak of war. In the 1950s, building picked up again, and the modern history of Ferring is very much that of property development and efforts to contain it. One hopes that its population has stabilised at its present level of just over 4000.

The northern half of the parish is now safely within the proposed ‘South Downs National Park’: Highdown and the woods and fields behind it are preserved pretty much as they have been for the last few centuries. The village nucleus of the church and half a dozen thatched cottages from the 17th and 18th Centuries is also well preserved, and there are a dozen more cottages and farmhouses of this period marking out what were the old hamlets of East Ferring, Hangleton and Franklins Green. The foreshore is also evocative of the past – no roadway or concrete promenade (except that alongside the 1941 pill box machinegun post), no flats, only the shifting shingle to remind us of the constant battle with the sea –  another theme in Ferring’s long history.

[See other pages on this site for summary articles on Ferring’s ancient history, then century by century, up to modern times. Over a hundred articles on more specific topics are available to members of Ferring History Group.
For a more substantial general account, see: Ferring Millennium History by Kath Worvell,  Ferring Past by R Kerridge and M Standing, and, especially, the Victoria County History of Sussex volume V,2. – all in Ferring Library.]

Ed Miller rev. 2014